On Sunday, vigils were held in many cities to commemorate the 11 worshippers killed at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh on Oct. 27, 2018. The shooting was the deadliest attack on Jews in American history.
As we have mourned and taken greater measures toward protecting ourselves, we have, mainly, not let fear paralyze us or isolate us from our neighbours and the larger world. We have continued to live Jewishly, whatever that means to each one of us; whether it’s helping those less fortunate, lobbying for sound government policies, going to synagogue or simply being kind to the people we encounter in our day.
In Vancouver, community members and others could join two collective moments of remembrance on Sunday: the Jewish Federations of North America’s Pause with Pittsburgh, which included the livestreaming of a public memorial service, and a service at Congregation Beth Israel, organized by the Rabbinical Association of Vancouver with the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver, Hillel BC and the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver.
Over the weekend, Jews were also encouraged – as they were in the wake of the tragedy last year – to #ShowUpForShabbat, an initiative of the American Jewish Committee, calling for us “to honour the victims and raise our collective voice for a world free of antisemitism, hate and bigotry.”
Beth Israel’s Rabbi Jonathan Infeld, who grew up in Pittsburgh, told News 1130, “There are still many people who are frightened and worried about what took place a year ago…. There are people who are concerned about coming to synagogue and people who are concerned about antisemitism. Especially on holidays, one of the messages I deliver is that, unfortunately, antisemitism is on the rise in the world. But we have to remain strong, to have the courage to come to synagogue, and to not allow attacks like this to prevent us from being who we are and to deprive us of the benefits that come from being in a sacred space.”
Infeld also noted, “One of the aftermaths of the attack is that people in Pittsburgh didn’t feel this was an attack just on a synagogue, they felt it was an attack on Pittsburgh…. We have to understand an attack on any sacred space is an attack on an entire community, so we need to stand together as one community with the message that love is stronger than hate.”
While the situation is not as bad as elsewhere in the world, the number of hate crimes and the incidences of antisemitism in Canada, including in British Columbia, have increased worrisomely. Love has a long row to hoe. Not only to give us the courage to speak up in the face of prejudice, but also to confront and temper our own. Not only to make us self-assured enough to make space for those with whom we agree and for whom we care, but also for those with whom we disagree and whom we dislike. Not only to inspire us to dream of a better world, but to give us the imagination and resourcefulness to bring those aspirations into being.
Love can only be stronger than hate if we choose to make it so.
Jewish Seniors Alliance’s first silent auction, which offered a selection of close to 30 items, from gift certificates from local businesses to paintings and prints. (photo by Susan Curtis)
How do you say thank you to individuals who strive to better the lives of people in the community? Jewish Seniors Alliance’s answer is an appreciation dinner, part of its annual general meeting, which comprises a tribute to three conscientious community personalities. As well, at this year’s AGM on Sept. 19, thanks were given to outgoing JSA president Ken Levitt and new co-presidents Gyda Chud and Larry Shapiro were welcomed.
Levitt’s leadership was praised by Shapiro, who noted the outgoing president’s “ever-present love of life, which inspires everyone and brings out the best in each person whom he meets.”
Chud read a poem, “Captain Ken,” written by JSA honourary life member Binny Goldman. It noted: “You listened with your ear and understood with your heart. Your experience, knowledge and judgment always saw us through successfully – you are a leader, a man above most men.”
Anne Kang, MLA for Burnaby-Deer Lake, spoke about the ongoing efforts of the B.C. government on seniors’ issues, including improved long-term care assistance and training of care workers, and the overseeing of buildings and streets, to ensure that they are accessible and safer for seniors.
Emcee Jack Altman began the honouree ceremony with a tribute to Tzvia Estrin, who was nominated by Yaffa House.
Estrin’s son Avie, who is the current president of Yaffa House, recounted the efforts of his mother and late father Aaron, who worked for 10 years to establish Yaffa House. It opened in 2001 as Western Canada’s first home dedicated to housing community members with mental illness in the context of a Jewish living environment, including kosher food. He said his mother continues full-throttle, being at Yaffa House every day, usually at 6:30 a.m. And he emphasized that “nobody could have achieved what Tzvia has attained and continues to do for the most vulnerable segment of our own community.”
Yaffa House presently oversees four homes across the city, including a newly opened women’s facility. Its mandate is to provide permanent non-transitional housing and has in-house support. It takes people off the streets and tries to keep them off the streets.
Tzvia Estrin thanked everyone and read the poem “Don’t Turn Your Back,” which emphasizes the importance of taking the time to compassionately listen to others’ needs and to help them as lovingly as one is able.
Cindy Charkow, a director of Yaffa House, noted the outstanding, much-needed service that the facility provides and stressed that, “without Tzvia, there wouldn’t be a Yaffa House.”
The second honouree, Jack Wizenberg, was recognized for his work with Tikva Housing Society, which helps lower-income Jewish people find affordable housing. He said, “Seeing Jewish individuals and families who are alone, struggling and having to rely on social insurance and the food bank to survive, touches my heart.”
Wizenberg served on the Tikva board for six years, bringing to the position his 41 years’ experience in property management, as well as a lifelong involvement in a range of Jewish organizations and causes in Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver.
He said he felt “extremely moved” when reading a Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver housing needs study indicating that, in 2015, 16% of the Jewish population in Greater Vancouver were living below the poverty line “and, in all likelihood, those numbers have increased over the last four years.” He emphasized that things beyond their control prevented these people from working and, in a blink of an eye, they found themselves in need and relying on social assistance to survive.
Wizenberg began his service at Tikva helping with maintenance and tenant issues at Dany Guincher House. Since the first 11-suite apartment building in Marpole was purchased in 2008, he said, Tikva has made available 18 units of mixed single and family housing in the Diamond Residences in Richmond and another 32 family townhouses will be available in the Ben and Esther Dayson Residences in Vancouver’s Fraserview area. Last year, 100 individuals were helped by the Esther Dayson Subsidy Program, which provided those in need with adequate funds to allow them to continue living in their current accommodations.
Tikva president Shelley Karrel said Wizenberg seemed to have a passion for property management and often joined the property management and/or fire-safety group when doing walkthroughs to evaluate building conditions and the need for repairs. His positions have included treasurer, building committee head and acquisitions committee head.
“He was always seeking to ensure the best for Tikva, the buildings and its tenants,” said Karrel. “He is a person who respects others, is very organized and is a great team player. We are blessed to have Jack as a board member and friend.”
Evening honouree , whose tenor singing voice has brought joy to countless individuals and organizations throughout the Jewish and general communities for more than six decades, was introduced by JSA president emeritus Serge Haber.
“We’re honouring people who love community,” said Haber. “Maurice has helped seniors so very much by enthusiastically and nobly giving his special talents, his outstanding voice to the community, and particularly to seniors. Your father, George Moses, a celebrated rabbi/cantor in Bangalore, India, would have been most proud of you. Without question, you are most deserving of this honour.”
Moses spoke of the pleasure he receives by entertaining, and especially in doing so for senior citizens, emphasizing that “our precious seniors should not be ignored and they should be entertained and respected for their countless contributions to life in the community. The only way that I can thank seniors for all they have done is through my singing. It gives me great satisfaction to see their smiling faces, their faces lighting up when I see them react to a song familiar to them.”
Moses shared some of his many religious/concert participations for seniors, including singing for 17 years at Shabbat services at Louis Brier Home and Hospital. He has sung with the Jewish Community Centre Choir, the Shiron Singers, with Elizabeth Wolak and Muriel Morris, and the Rinat Ensemble, all of which performed for seniors. He also has produced a Vision TV show, Let’s Sing Again, which featured a popular tunes sing-along aiming to revive seniors’ nostalgic memories.
He has sung and danced for the past 10 years with the seniors’ concert group Showtime, which is produced by Beryl Israel, as well as with the Vancouver Jewish Men’s Choir (VJMC), the Kol Simcha Choir (composed of members from all synagogues), at Temple Sholom services with Cantor Emeritus Arthur Guttman, at Beth Hamidrash, at Beth Tikvah Synagogue and at Chabad Richmond with Cantor Steve Levin. He is an active participant with the Choir of the Performing Arts Lodge (PAL), which stages a variety of special shows for community seniors.
Moses said his enduring love for seniors was developed by his interactions with the late Beth Israel Cantor Murray Nixon, who constantly stressed the importance of treating older people with respect.
“I am so pleased,” said Moses, “that this evening is taking place at Beth Israel, truly ‘my home away from home,’ where I served in the synagogue’s choir for 66 years under seven different cantors and six different rabbis – and with Pucky Pelman, my mentor for 45 years.”
Moses expressed appreciation to his “guest of honour,” his daughter Melissa, “who has been by my side through three bouts of cancer, making me drink lots of water, eat healthy foods, and go on long walks at the Southlands.”
He gave “a most sincere thank you” to a number of people: Arnold Selwyn, his “35-year wonderful partner in song”; Morris, a pianist with whom he has performed for 55 years; Miriam Breitman, with the Rinat Ensemble and now the PAL chorus, and PAL co-founder Bill Harvey; Binny Goldman, for her help at Louis Brier services; Stan Shear, VJMC musical director; Cantor Yaacov Orzech with the Kol Simcha Choir; and Jonathan Berkowitz of BI’s Purim Shpiel.”
He ended by singing “Let’s Sing Again” and, with Selwyn, Adon Olam.
A video on JSA’s outreach and peer support activities, produced by Cory Bretz of Heirloom Films, was screened, followed by the JSA’s first silent auction, which offered a selection of close to 30 items, from gift certificates from local businesses to paintings and prints.
The event was co-chaired by Tammi Belfer and Larry Shapiro, with committee members Tamara Frankel, Helene Rosen, Marshall and Marilyn Berger, and JSA staff Elizabeth Azeroual and Rita Propp. Catering was provided by Nava Creative Cuisine; the photographer was Susan Curtis.
Bob Markinis a longtime Jewish Seniors Alliance supporter.
In a story that is positive and uplifting, Rabbi Adam Stein, associate rabbi of Vancouver’s Congregation Beth Israel, wrote a piece in Canada’s Anglican Journal, which describes itself as the largest faith-based publication in North America. In the article, Stein describes his engagement with national leaders of the Anglican movement as the church has reviewed its liturgy around Judaism and Jewish people. Stein was representing the Canadian Rabbinical Council, a cross-denominational group under the auspices of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs. (Click here for article.)
While the slow machination of the church’s processes means it won’t be official until at least 2022, the recent General Synod of the church approved the replacement of a prayer for the conversion of the Jews with a prayer for reconciliation with the Jews. The move is monumental in the context of Jewish-Christian relations. The idea that Christianity is a replacement theology to Judaism – and that Jews should convert or disappear, with all that implies – prevailed for nearly 2,000 years. At heart, it is a negation of the Jewish people’s right to exist and, indeed, at times in history, conversion or death were the two choices Jews were offered.
The two-millennia history of conflict, supercessionism and religious-based antisemitism went almost unchallenged until the 1960s, when the Roman Catholic church underwent a revolutionary reconsideration of many aspects of its theology, including its relations with Jews. Since then, other branches of Christianity have taken leads of varying sorts in addressing their own histories of oppression directed at Jews, as well as at women, indigenous people and communities, LGBTQ+ people and others.
The generosity of spirit evidenced by Canadian Anglicans – and the obviously heartfelt expression of gratitude in Rabbi Stein’s written reflections on the issue – are a welcome ray of light and warmth in a world that too often seems lacking in these elements.
The Goldene Medina exhibit is designed to have the feel of a scrapbook album, to have come from any Jewish South African’s family memoir. (photo from South African Jewish Museum)
The Goldene Medina exhibit arrives in Vancouver July 29 for two weeks. A celebration of 175 years of Jewish life in South Africa, the exhibit was displayed in South Africa, Australia and Israel prior to arriving here, where it is making its North America debut at Congregation Beth Israel. Local Jewish community member Stephen Rom, who is from South Africa, saw it for the first time in Sydney and was instrumental in bringing it to the city.
“You need to remember your past to engage in the present,” reflected Rom. “I was struck by the level of professionalism of this exhibit, which was produced by the South African Jewish Museum in Cape Town. What’s different about it is the way the stories have been written. Nobody is named or personally identified. This is the story of all Jews in South Africa, the community as a whole.”
The Goldene Medina was the Jews’ name for Johannesburg when they arrived during the gold rush in 1886. “This exhibition has soul – it’s not a dry exhibition of facts and figures,” noted Wendy Kahn, national director of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies. “It’s one that tells real stories of families that have been living in South Africa for 175 years.”
“This is a social history,” agreed Gavin Morris, director of the museum, “the story of families and people and their experiences as South Africans and as Jews for 175 years, from our forefathers arriving to contemporary Jewish South Africa. Everything is taken from unpublished memoirs, articles and out-of-print books, to give the exhibit a sense of a scrapbook album, of any Jewish South African’s family memoirs. Our goal was for people to find their own stories in similar stories.”
The stories are excerpts written in the first person and accompanied by photographs old and new. One excerpt, titled “My Mother’s Table,” reads, “At my mother’s table, ‘being full’ was never a reason to stop eating. Some of the many reasons to have some more included: ‘I cooked this especially for you because I know you like it,’ ‘you can’t put so little leftovers back into the fridge,’ ‘it’s freshly made,’ and ‘you don’t like my cooking.’ Refusing more was to snub the generosity and abundance that was on offer. Eating was proof that you were loved and that you knew how to love back.”
Another, titled “Cubs,” reads: “After my mom realized that I only knew Jewish kids, she sent me off to Cubs – not exactly your standard Jewish activity. I came home with my first friend and said, ‘Mom, isn’t it wonderful? Here’s my first friend from Cubs and guess what – we’ve got the same Hebrew teacher!’ He was the only other Jewish kid there and we found each other. My mother gave up after that.”
A third is titled “A Surprise Guest”: “What is the epitome of Jewish chutzpah? Inviting the president of the country to attend your bar mitzvah. And what is Jewish mazel? When the president actually accepts. The bar mitzvah boy delivered his handwritten note to a security guard outside [Nelson] Mandela’s Houghton estate. He hoped to get a card from Mandela in return. Instead, his parents received an official call to say the president will attend. On the day, President Mandela arrived and sat at the main table, between the bar mitzvah boy and his father.”
The excerpts are thought-provoking, poignant, entertaining, informative and never boring. And the photographs are deeply intriguing, telling a story of their own – a timeless Jewish story that has relevance to all Jews whose ancestors have known immigration and resettlement.
Accompanying the Goldene Medina in Vancouver will be the exhibit Shalom Uganda: A European Jewish Community on the Ugandan Equator 1949-1961, curated by Janice Masur.
“As a child, I lived in this remote European Jewish community on the shores of Lake Victoria in Kampala, Uganda, under British Imperial rule, with no rabbi or Jewish infrastructure. Yet, this tiny community of 23 families and 20 children (15 of whom were born in Kampala) identified as Jews and formed a cohesive group that celebrated all the Jewish festivals together,” explained Masur. “Now that most references to Jews in Uganda pertain to … Abayudaya Jews, I want this history – my story about my Ashkenazi Jewish community in Kampala – to be remembered in the Jewish Diaspora.”
The photos and stories that comprise the Ugandan display are, said Masur, “a testament to a determined but isolated group of Jews who were secular in a [remote] place but upheld their Jewish identity and traditions as best as was possible,” given the lack of religious, educational or cultural Jewish institutions. (For more about the Ugandan Jewish community in which Masur grew up, click here.)
The July 29 opening night of the Goldene Medina starts at 7:30 p.m. at Beth Israel, where the display will be up until Aug. 14.
Lauren Kramer, an award-winning writer and editor, lives in Richmond. To read her work online, visit laurenkramer.net.
Phyllis and Rabbi Wilfred Solomon, centre, with Cantor Murray Nixon and his wife Dorothy, left, and Sharon and Irving Kates, at Beth Israel’s 60th anniversary gala in 1992. (photo from Congregation Beth Israel fonds, JMABC L.22263)
On June 17, Congregation Beth Israel will pay tribute to Rabbi Emeritus Wilfred (Zev) and Phyllis Solomon. The rabbi was spiritual leader of the synagogue from 1964 to 1997. During that time, gala co-chair Marcy Schwartzman told the Independent, he officiated at more than 4,000 lifecycle events, including about 500 brit milot and baby namings, 750 weddings, 800 b’nai mitzvah, 250 conversions, 900 funerals and 900 unveilings.
But the cause for celebration goes beyond numbers, of course.
“Rabbi Zev and Phyllis Solomon were the heart and soul of Congregation Beth Israel for many years,” said board president Helen Pinksy. “Together, they gave our synagogue honour and status as a warm, caring, forward-thinking and progressive community of committed Jews in Vancouver. The role of emeritus for Rabbi Solomon indicates his distinguished service and was not awarded pro forma, but because he, together with his wife, accomplished much and were beloved by the people they served. It is a true pleasure to be honouring him in return with this gala.”
Pinksy and her family have been members of Beth Israel for about 25 years. Upon joining the synagogue, she said, “Almost immediately, I asked Rabbi Solomon to teach me Torah and Haftarah reading, because I wanted to have an adult bat mitzvah. Under his tutelage, it took place. After that, my oldest son Isaac was in Rabbi Solomon’s last bar mitzvah cohort, in 1997.”
Current spiritual leader of Beth Israel, Senior Rabbi Jonathan Infeld, met the Solomons at his installation 13 years ago.
“Rabbi Solomon was beloved because of his warmth, love and concern for the Jewish people, the Vancouver Jewish community and the members of our synagogue,” said Infeld. “He worked extremely hard to bring Torah and love to everyone in his realm. I always hope to emulate his examples.”
Both Infeld and Pinsky attended the Rabbinical Assembly, which took place this year in Montreal May 5-8. Solomon was one of six rabbis honoured by the Conservative movement organization on the first night of the convention.
“Conservative rabbis from across the world were in attendance,” said Infeld. “Unfortunately, Rabbi Solomon and Phyllis were not able to make it because they live in Jerusalem. Rabbi Lionel Moses organized and chaired the ceremony. I spoke about Rabbi Solomon and his wife, Phyllis. Liberal MP Anthony Housefather presented an award that Helen Pinsky received on Rabbi Solomon’s behalf.”
“As soon as I heard about the tribute ceremony for the Solomons, I wanted to be there,” said Pinsky. “It was an extreme honour to accept the certificate of merit and tribute on their behalf. The certificate is signed by Prime Minister [Justin] Trudeau, and the prime minister filmed a message of congratulations to the Rabbinical Assembly to welcome us there.
“The greatest thrill,” she said, “was to hear Rabbi Infeld describe the accomplishments and the personal courage and integrity of the Solomons to the assembled rabbis and other guests at the assembly. It was easy for us to decide to attend, because we didn’t want this opportunity to honour the Solomons to go by without proper acknowledgement.”
The Solomons worked for the benefit of the synagogue and the larger community. “They became friends with many of their congregants and the families that made up the synagogue, grew up with the Solomon family,” said Pinsky. “Rabbi Solomon took a leading role in advocating for human rights and protecting human dignity within the Vancouver Jewish community and neither he nor Phyllis hesitated to stand up for what they believed to be fair. He was involved in demanding freedom of Soviet Jews, in the exodus of Ethiopian Jews, and he supported Martin Luther King and other leaders who fought for racial and social equality during the ’60s, ’70s and onwards. The Solomons also aided in the synagogue’s adaptation to include women as equals within the Conservative movement. Their impact was huge.”
The couple made aliyah right after Rabbi Solomon’s retirement in fall 1997, said Pinsky. “They have lived in Jerusalem ever since,” she said. “In around 2006, they attended and Rabbi Solomon officiated at my niece’s bat mitzvah at the Southern Wall, just below the Western Wall, and we socialized all weekend. The Solomons retained a warm and friendly relationship with my extended family, as they did with most of the families in the synagogue. They had known my parents since the ’70s, for example, and were quick to send us kids kind notes of sympathy on the passing of our father and then our mother. I know of many congregants who have lunched with the Solomons each time they visit Jerusalem, and still maintain that special relationship that one can have with ‘my rabbi.’”
“I see them every time that I am in Israel,” said Infeld. “We also talk on the phone and email.”
Infeld is joined in leading the congregation by Assistant Rabbi Adam Stein, Ba’alat Tefillah Debby Fenson and youth director Rabbi David Bluman. The synagogue has more than 640 member families, according to its website.
“Rabbi Solomon and Phyllis gave so much to Beth Israel and the entire Vancouver Jewish community. We are as we are today as a synagogue because of the two of them. They built so much. We should always be grateful to them,” said Infeld. “Our gala will be just one way to continue to show them our gratitude and appreciation.”
For the last while, the gala committee, which Schwartzman co-chairs with Leatt Vinegar, has been asking the community to send in photographs of and stories about the Solomons. These photos will be shared throughout the event in different ways, said Schwartzman.
“It is going to be a lovely evening of celebrating our beloved Rabbi and Mrs. Solomon,” she said, “but it is also a celebration of our congregation and how it touches our lives at those lifecycle pivotal moments.”
In this vein, a new exhibit is being mounted.
“We are excited to officially open the museum cases in the synagogue once again,” said Schwartzman. “Jean Gerber and Lissa Weinberger have been working hard at bringing back these displays. Phyllis Solomon helped develop the original museum in the old building and she has been involved in helping to decide which pieces will be in this new display that officially opens at the gala.
“We will also be naming the street that leads down to our parking lot … and, if technology holds up, we will be trying a live link to the Solomons in Israel.”
A special book of messages is being designed to give to the Solomons as a keepsake, and a digital version will also be created, so that everyone can view it. To contribute to the book, contact Esther Moses-Wood at [email protected].
Proceeds from the gala and book will support the operation of the synagogue. For tickets ($180), call 604-731-4161 by June 1.
Welcomers of the Alsedawe family at Vancouver International Airport Jan. 21. (Adele Lewin Photography)
More than three years ago, Hanan Alsedawe’s family story of survival began as a waiting game on both sides of the ocean. But, on Jan. 21, 2019, the wait became a welcome as Hanan and her children stepped foot on Canadian soil.
In early 2015, congregations Beth Israel and Beth Tikvah began the long process of sponsoring and reuniting a Syrian refugee family with family who already lived in Vancouver. We worked with the government-approved sponsorship agreement holder – the Anglican Diocese – to prepare and submit our private sponsorship application to the Canadian government. It was a journey requiring perseverance by our coordinating committee, and patience and understanding from the many donors of both synagogues who demonstrated belief in our efforts regardless of the length of time it was taking.
On the Jordanian-Saudi Arabian border, in the Azraq Refugee Camp, Hanan and her two children – Mahros and Safa – shared limited resources with more than 55,000 refugees. Their extended family had made their way to Canada under government sponsorship, but Hanan had stayed behind, in Duma, Syria, because her husband, Raslan Abdulmalik, had been taken away by Syrian government forces and she had no idea of what had happened to him. She waited, she hoped, she prayed, but, eventually, with no sign of Raslan being alive, yet with no confirmation that he was either in prison or dead, Hanan decided to escape from Duma. She made her way with her two young children to Amman, Jordan, and eventually was placed in the Azraq refugee camp. There, she waited for a miracle.
Sept. 2, 2015, was a watershed moment that captured the hearts of people around the world and galvanized Canada into accepting 25,000 Syrian refugees into the country. Hanan’s mother and five siblings came to our shores under those auspices. But it would take years of work and hope to bring the last of Fayzeh Alsedawe’s daughters, with her children, to join the family here.
More than three years after initiating the sponsorship, Beth Israel and Beth Tikvah fulfilled Hanan’s dreams of joining her mother and siblings in Vancouver. On Jan. 21, representatives of both synagogues were on hand at Vancouver International Airport to welcome their sponsored family.
On any given day, at any given time, the international arrivals hall at YVR is a kaleidoscope of colours. On that Monday in January, the full spectrum was visible, augmented by the cacophony of diverse languages and a blending of bodies. Clearly, Canada is at its most multicultural in an airport setting.
Also palpable was the range of emotions. There was the full gamut of human feelings on display among those awaiting families, friends and strangers to enter the hall. Contrasts abounded: joy competed with sadness, anticipation with angst, relief with uncertainty. Each person arriving searched for familiar faces, welcoming arms and handwritten signs, indicating that someone was there for them.
In this swirl of humanity were representatives of Beth Israel and Beth Tikvah, their dream to sponsor a refugee family from Syria finally reaching fruition. Sharing this moment – indeed, at the centre of this moment – was the local family: the mother, Fayzeh, and her five adult children, Hanadi, Huda, Maha, Hatem and Mohammed, who had arrived in Canada three years ago and had waited anxiously to be reunited with the remainder of their family.
There was something so surreal, yet so tangible and in the moment at that airport reunion. Words are inadequate to describe the outpouring of relief and love when Hanan and her children emerged in the arrivals hall. An invisible bubble enclosed the family, as they looked at each other for the first time in more than four years. And then, quickly, the bubble grew, as our delegation surrounded the family with our own contributions of hugs, gifts and welcome. One gift in particular seemed to unite the new family with our Canadian sponsors – a Whitecaps soccer ball given to 13-year-old Mahros. Soccer, a universal language for children and adults alike!
Every family has a history, a story that captures the essence of their character and experiences. The Alsedawes’ story is one of courage and hope. Their life in Syria was destroyed by war but their determination to escape, under circumstances almost impossible for us to comprehend, means that, today, their story is one of hope and gratefulness. In Hanan’s own words to the committee, “I thank God and I thank you.”
Settlement requires patience. Never has the Hebrew word savlanut meant so much to our small committee. Patience was required in the very lengthy process from application to arrival. Patience is required as we work to settle the children in school, the mother in English-as-a-second-language classes and the family into a way of life totally foreign to them. Within weeks of their arrival, the family had visited a family physician, dental appointments were booked, the children were enrolled in public school, bank accounts were set up and, important in this day and age, cellphones and tablets were provided to them.
Our year of sponsorship has only just begun, but this journey has been undertaken with the generosity of many people. Our donors have compassion and commitment, and understand that, “There but for the grace of God go I.”
Rosalind Karbyis co-chair, with Miranda Burgess, of Beth Israel Congregation’s Committee for the Syrian Refugee Sponsorship Initiative.
Women at the Beth Tikvah Sisterhood
spring conference, which took place at Beth Israel, 2000. Shelley Ail is the
first on the right, but the others are unknown. (photo from JWB fonds, JMABC
If you know someone in this photo, please helpthe JI fill the gaps of its predecessor’s (the Jewish Western Bulletin’s)collection at the Jewish Museum and Archives of B.C. by contacting [email protected] or 604-257-5199. To find out who has been identified in the photos,visit jewishmuseum.ca/blog.
Kristallnacht, which took place 80 years ago this month, saw hundreds of synagogues burned, Jewish-owned businesses destroyed, 100 Jews murdered and 30,000 incarcerated. (photo from commons.wikimedia.org)
Kristallnacht, which took place 80 years ago this month, was the “Night of Broken Glass” that saw hundreds of synagogues burned, Jewish-owned businesses destroyed, 100 Jews murdered and 30,000 incarcerated. The state-sanctioned pogrom was staged to look like a spontaneous uprising against the Jews of Germany, annexed Austria and occupied Sudetenland. It is frequently seen as the beginning in earnest of the Holocaust. According to Prof. Chris Friedrichs, who delivered the keynote address at the annual Kristallnacht commemorative evening Nov. 8, global reaction to the attack, which took place on the night of Nov. 9-10, 1938, sent messages to both Nazis and Jews.
“The world was shocked,” said Friedrichs, professor emeritus of history at the University of British Columbia. “Newspapers in the free countries of Europe and all over the Americas reported on these events in detail. Editorials thundered against the Nazi thugs. Protests took place. Demonstrations were held. Opinion was mobilized – for a few days. But soon, Kristallnacht was no longer front-page news. What had happened was now the new normal in Germany, and the world’s attention moved elsewhere. And this is what the Nazis learned: we can do this, and more, and get away with it. Nothing will happen.
“And the Jews of Germany learned something too,” said Friedrichs, himself a son of parents who fled the Nazi regime. “By 1938, many Jews had emigrated from Germany – if they could find a country that would take them. But many others remained. Much had been taken away from them, but two things remained untouched: their houses of worship and their homes. Here, at least, one could be safe, sustained by the fellowship of other Jews and the comforts and consolations of religious faith and family life. But now, in one brutal night, these things, too, had been taken from them. Their synagogues were reduced to rubble, their shops vandalized, their homes desecrated. Nothing was safe or secure. The last lingering hopes of the Jews still living in Germany that, despite all they had suffered at the hands of the Nazis, they might at least be allowed to live quiet private lives of work and worship with family and friends, collapsed in the misery of fire, smashed glass, home invasions, mass arrests and psychological terror on Nov. 9, 1938.”
Friedrichs’ lecture followed a solemn procession of survivors of the Holocaust, who carried candles onto the bimah of Congregation Beth Israel. The evening, presented by the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre (VHEC) and Beth Israel, was funded by the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver annual campaign, with support from the Robert and Marilyn Krell Endowment Fund of the VHEC and the Azrieli Foundation, which provided every attendee with a copy of Dangerous Measures, the memoir of Canadian Joseph Schwartzberg, who witnessed Kristallnacht and fled Germany with his family soon after.
“We are gathered tonight in the sanctuary of a synagogue,” said Friedrichs, who retired in June, after 45 years of teaching and researching at UBC. “A synagogue should indeed be a sanctuary, a quiet place where Jews can gather, chiefly but not only on the Sabbath, for prayer, worship and contemplation. Recent events have reminded us only too bitterly that this is not always the case.
“Our minds are full of mental images of what happened in Pittsburgh less than two weeks ago, but I invite you to call up a different mental image,” he said, taking the audience back to the time of Kristallnacht. “Think of a synagogue. Just a few days earlier, on the Sabbath, Jews had gathered there, as they have gathered in synagogues for 2,000 years, for prayer, worship and fellowship with other Jews. But now, suddenly, in the middle of the night, a firebomb is thrust through a window of the synagogue. As the window glass shatters to the floor, the firebomb ignites a piece of furniture. Within minutes the fire spreads. Soon the entire synagogue is engulfed in flames. It is an inferno. The next morning, the walls of the synagogue are still standing, but the interior is completely gutted. No worship will ever take place there again.”
Friedrichs paused to note that some in the audience would recall a similar attack that destroyed Vancouver’s Reform synagogue, Temple Sholom, on Jan. 25, 1985. He recounted the reaction of police and firefighters, civic leaders and the general public, who rallied around the Vancouver congregation at the time, and compared that with the reactions of non-Jews in Germany and the territories it controlled at the time of Kristallnacht.
“Police and firefighters are on the scene,” Friedrichs said of the situation during Kristallnacht. “But the firefighters are not there to put out the blaze. They are there only to make sure the fire does not spread to any nearby non-Jewish buildings. The police are there only to make sure no members of the congregation try to rescue anything from the building.
“The next morning, crowds of onlookers gape at the burnt-out shell of the synagogue. Some of the furnishings and ritual objects have survived the blaze, so they are dragged out to the street and a bonfire is prepared. But first, the local school principal must arrive with his pupils. Deprived of the opportunity to see the synagogue itself in flames during the night, when they were asleep, the children should at least have the satisfaction of seeing the furnishings and Jewish ritual objects go up in smoke. Most of those objects are added to the bonfire, but not all. Not the Torah scrolls – the Five Books of Moses, every single word of which, in translation, is identical to the words found in the first five books of every Christian Bible. No, the Torah scrolls are not added to the bonfire. They are dragged out to the street to be trampled on by the children, egged on by adult onlookers, while other adults rip apart the Torah covers to be taken home as souvenirs.
“And now consider this: events like this did not happen in just one town,” Friedrichs said. “The same things took place in hundreds upon hundreds of cities and towns throughout Germany and Austria, all on the very same evening and into the next morning. There were minor variations from town to town, but the basic events were exactly the same, for it was a nationwide pogrom, carefully planned in advance.”
Friedrichs, who devoted 25 years to serving on the organizing committee of the Kristallnacht commemorative committee, including eight as president, reflected on the history of Holocaust remembrance in Vancouver, including the decision to single out this date as one of the primary commemorative events of the calendar.
“Why should we commemorate the Shoah at this particular time in November?” he asked. “Consider this: 91 Jewish men died on Nov. 9th and 10th, 1938. Yet, on a single day in the busy summer of 1944, up to 5,000 Jewish men, women and children might be murdered in the gas chambers of Auschwitz on one day. Why not select some random date in August 1944 and make that the occasion to recall the victims of the Shoah? Why choose Kristallnacht?”
The earliest Holocaust commemorations in the city, he said, citing the work of local scholar Barbara Schober, was an event in 1948 marking the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.
People who had founded the Peretz School in Vancouver, in 1945, hoped to preserve the memories and values of the East European Jewish culture, which had been almost totally wiped from the map, he said. “Yet, rather than focus on the six million deaths, their intention was to honour those Jews who had actually risen up to fight the Nazi menace – the hopeless but inspiring efforts exemplified above all by the heroic resistance of the Warsaw Ghetto fighters who used the pathetically meagre supply of weapons they could find to resist the final liquidation of the ghetto by the Nazis in the spring of 1943,” said Friedrichs. “That effort failed, but it was not forgotten.”
This event continued, with the support of Canadian Jewish Congress, into the 1970s, he explained.
“There was an emerging concern that Jews should not just recall and pay tribute to the victims of the Shoah,” said Friedrichs. “The increasing visibility of the Holocaust denial movement made it apparent that Jews should also make their contribution to educating society as a whole – and especially young people – about the true history of what had happened. Prof. Robert Krell and Dr. Graham Forst undertook to establish an annual symposium at UBC at which hundreds of high school students would learn about the Holocaust from experts and, even more importantly, from hearing the first-person accounts of survivors themselves. It was in those years, too, that the Vancouver Holocaust Education Society was established to coordinate these efforts. The survivor outreach program, through which dozens of survivors of the Shoah in our community spoke and continue to speak to students about what they experienced, became the cornerstone of these educational efforts. Their talks are always different, for no two survivors ever experienced the Shoah the same way, but the ultimate object is always the same – not just to teach students what happened to the Jews of Europe between 1939 and 1945, but to reflect on the danger that racist thinking of any kind can all too easily lead to.”
But this was education, he noted, not commemoration.
“With the decline of the Warsaw Ghetto event in Vancouver, the need to commemorate the Shoah came to be filled in other ways. One of those ways was the emergence of the Vancouver Kristallnacht commemoration. The origins of this form of commemoration lie right here in the Beth Israel congregation. In the late 1970s, members of the Gottfried family who had emigrated from Austria in the Nazi era, now members of Beth Israel, proposed that their synagogue host a commemoration of Kristallnacht.”
Friedrichs spoke of the burden carried by each of the survivors who carried candles onto the bimah moments earlier.
“You might think that a candle is not very hard to carry, but, for each one of these men and women, the flame of the candle has reignited painful memories stretching back 70 or 80 years, to a dimly remembered way of life before their world collapsed,” he said. “These men and women survived, and sometimes a few of their relatives did as well, but all of them, without exception, you’ve heard this before, had family members – whether parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, siblings, or cousins – who were murdered. One could not reproach these men and women if they had chosen to stay home on a night like this. But, instead, they are here.
“Many of these men and women have done more, even more, as well,” he continued. “For many of them have done something for years and continue to do so even now: to speak of their experiences to students in the schools of our province. To stand in front of two or three or four or five hundred students of every race and every heritage and describe life in the ghetto or the camp or on the death march or the anxiety of living in hiding and being pushed into a basement or a closet every time some unwanted visitor arrived – this is not easy. But there is a purpose. The young people of our province are barraged with images and messages and texts telling them that people of certain religions or races or heritages are inferior and unwanted members of our society. They must be told just what that kind of thinking can lead to. No textbook, no video, no lecture can do the job as powerfully as hearing a survivor describe exactly what he or she experienced during the Shoah.”
Corinne Zimmerman, vice-president of the VHEC, welcomed guests and introduced the candlelighting procession. Cantor Yaacov Orzech chanted El Moleh Rachamim, the memorial prayer for the martyrs. UBC Prof. Richard Menkis delivered opening remarks and Helen Pinsky, president of Beth Israel, introduced Sarah Kirby-Yung, a Vancouver city councilor who read a proclamation from the mayor. Nina Krieger, executive director of the VHEC, introduced Friedrichs. Beth Israel’s Rabbi Jonathan Infeld provided closing remarks, and Jody Wilson-Raybould, minister of justice and member of Parliament for Vancouver Granville, sent greetings on behalf of the Government of Canada.
Congregation Beth Israel, circa 1955. (photo from JWB fonds, JMABC L.09737)
If you know someone in this photo, please help the JI fill the gaps of its predecessor’s (the Jewish Western Bulletin’s) collection at the Jewish Museum and Archives of B.C. by contacting [email protected] or 604-257-5199. To find out who has been identified in the photos, visit jewishmuseum.ca/blog.
Beth Israel Synagogue, 1972. (photo from JWB fonds, JMABC L.09793)
If you know someone in this photo, please help the JI fill the gaps of its predecessor’s (the Jewish Western Bulletin’s) collection at the Jewish Museum and Archives of B.C. by contacting [email protected] or 604-257-5199. To find out who has been identified in the photos, visit jewishmuseum.ca/blog.